Editorial — 19 December 2015

For argument’s sake, let us say there are two kinds of people in the world, and in Belize. There are those who are always in need of money, and let’s call these the base. Then, there are those who are always in possession of money, and these are the bankers. You and I know, the bankers rule.

In colonial days in Belize, there was a dominant culture amongst the black majority which discouraged obsession with money. Rich people were almost considered quaint in Belize. The base revered teachers, nurses and midwives, the clergy, athletes, stage performers, musicians, merchant seamen, and so on.

The dominant colonial culture was urban, so farmers were only accepted: they were not esteemed. There was a history going way back to the Spanish hegemony and invasion days in this region which involved (Treaty of Paris, 1763) the Spanish insisting that there should be no farming in Belize, only woodcutting. Remember now, it is internationally accepted that food production is a foundation aspect of nation building. But British Honduras was a colony. It was not until World War II that opportunities for self-rule agitation were created in the Third World.

Insofar as money was concerned, the arrival of various immigrants (processed by our British rulers) from Europe, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East in the first half of the twentieth century began to change our socio-cultural paradigm. The immigrants would land in Belize as desperately poor refugees, but they had a strong consciousness of the importance of money. They focused on financial self-sufficiency, and then actual wealth. The Belizean base observed these developments, and slowly the base learned and understood. It was during that observation and slow learning process that Hurricane Hattie changed everything in Belize in 1961, and the population demographic here began that process of transformation which eventually took us to where we are today.

The thing about money is that it’s much easier to accumulate it if you don’t have a social conscience. There was a point when the dominant perspective on money began to change here, and money became important to Belizean politics. There was actually a time when money was not as critical a factor as today. The first two political icons in Belize, national heroes George Price and Philip Goldson, were men who were clearly not driven by the desire for money and material things. In fact, Belize’s second Prime Minister, Manuel Esquivel, who succeeded Mr. Price, although a flawed politician, was cut from the same cloth as Mr. Price and Mr. Goldson. The absolute focus of Belizean politicians and their cronies on money and material things became evident in 1998.

When Mr. Price became the People’s United Party (PUP) Leader in 1956, a rural consciousness – the importance of the land and agricultural production, began to grow in Belize. By the time of the massive popularity glory of Mr. Price’s PUP in the early 1960s, and the elevation of the sugar industry to high status, cultivation of Belize’s fertile lands finally had become a national priority.

In our colonial days, what there was of Belize’s politics had always been substantially influenced by the merchant class, because it was they who fed Belize, not Belize’s farmers. When the nationalist revolution began in 1950, a few of these merchant houses had become fabulously wealthy, by Belizean standards, and so when Belize’s version of the Green Revolution began in the 1960s, the big merchant houses supported the political Opposition to the ruling PUP. The merchants made money off imported, canned food, not fresh Belizean crops.

When the United Democratic Party (UDP) was formed as an amalgamation of three political parties and became the official Opposition in 1973, it featured the leading merchant houses as domestic financiers. By 1974, the UDP had become the most serious political threat ever to the PUP, and a Belize City Council election landslide victory by the UDP in December of 1977 convinced most observers that a change was coming. The PUP had to move more to the center after 1977 (it had been going left) in order to retain power in the 1979 general election.

The point of all this is to say that sometime during the 1970s, it appears to us, it became the order of the day for some PUP politicians to sacrifice the interests of small farmers in Belize in the service of merchant importers of various food products. You could make money much more quickly and in greater abundance through import permits for food products than through growing domestic food crops. If the PUP was sacrificing small farmers for the quick, big bucks, what do you think happened when the openly pro-merchant UDP finally came to power in 1984?

As the roots small farmers were being sacrificed, the Mennonites, who do farming on a large scale, relying on chemicals and mechanization, began to take over the production of Belize’s food staples – rice, beans, poultry, dairy, and other products. Between the merchant houses and the Mennonites, and betrayed by corrupt politicians and greedy cronies, Belize’s small farmers were crushed.

The story of money and rice in Belize requires research and analysis. This newspaper is no kind of expert in this subject. We have a good sense of the bigger, historical picture, but there are intricacies involved in the present controversy where a local merchant is bringing in Guyanese rice to sell at cheap prices while rice producers are lobbying for government protection. The questions that have to be answered are (1) who exactly are these Belizean rice producers, (2) what have been their profit margins, and (3) how much love have they shown to the Belizean base after they took over production control of Belize’s food staples.

Bottom line, despite their public pronouncements, Belize’s politicians have been selling out the Belizean base and our small farmers for the last forty years. As money became more and more important in Belize’s politics, the merchants fought their way back to the position of dominance they had enjoyed before agriculture’s dreamy days of glory in the 1960s. If it was not the case that the merchants again control Belize, the relevant importer in the Guyanese rice matter would not have dared to do what he has done. We’re just saying.

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